San Salvador, Mar 28 (EFE).- Salvadoran authorities have launched massive raids to capture huge numbers of gang members in response to the escalation in murders by the gangs that took the lives of 87 people on the weekend and led Congress to decree a state of emergency at the request of President Nayib Bukele.
Despite the extraordinary measure and the large numbers of arrests, gangs challenged the Bukele administration by killing 11 more people on Sunday, the day on which the state of emergency went into force.
On Friday, 14 people were murdered and on Saturday a total of 62 more were killed, making it the deadliest day in El Salvador’s recent history.
The arrests of presumed gang leaders, mainly those heading up elements of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), began on Saturday, but the raids were intensified on Sunday and have continued on Monday without any information being released so far by the authorities on the numbers of people taken into custody.
As of Sunday night, police and army troops had captured at least 576 people around the country, in particular in residential neighborhoods.
The police reported on their social network accounts that security forces “are executing actions like vehicle controls, raids of homes and of suspicious individuals.”
The authorities blame the gangs, mainly MS13, for the recent wave of violence in El Salvador but they still have not explained the reason for the spike in murders.
The national Prosecutor’s Office said Monday in a statement that the state of emergency, which will be in effect for 30 days, “does not affect the free circulation or the freedom of expression” of the public, adding that “people will be able to move about with no restriction.”
“For the great majority of Salvadorans, these measures will not affect their day to day lives,” the police said, emphasizing that “religious services, sports events, business and studies will continue to function normally.”
Various local media outlets emphasized on Monday that students, public and private sector workers all were able to move freely to go about their business on the second day of the emergency decree.
“On the first day of the last week of March, and the second day of the state of emergency, Salvadorans awoke, as always, and some bus stops were crowded,” the Prensa Grafica reported.
Oscar Ortiz, a former Salvadoran vice president and current head of the opposition Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), told reporters on Monday that the government’s plan to wrest control from the gangs around the country “doesn’t exist” and that it is only “a massive strategy with a propagandistic nature.”
“Basically, what’s been done is to create an entire massive communication strategy to try and give the impression that the violence situation has been brought under control,” the politician said.
He added that the government’s claim “that the violence situation was under control via the Territorial Plan doesn’t exist.”
The Bukele government attributes the accelerated drop in murders to the Territorial Control Plan, which was implemented in June 2019.
El Salvador in 2015 endured the most violent year in its recent history with 103 homicides per 100,000 residents, a rate that has been falling since then.
According to the President’s Office, during the first two years of Bukele’s mandate, from June 2019 to June 2021, there were 2,985 homicides, while during the first two years of the administrations of Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) and Salvador Sanchez Ceren (2014-2019) there were 8,316 and 11,825 murders, respectively.
In Ortiz’s judgment, the rise in murders in recent days “shows us that the criminal structure in El Salvador remains strong and has the ability to change the indicators in the area of violence when they want.”
The Cristosal humanitarian organization warned on Monday that the approval of the state of emergency did not comply with constitutional requirements “given that the increase in crime alone is no justification for the suspension of constitutional rights.”
The organization added that Congress “made no analysis of proportionality that would justify the use of the state of emergency,” which was approved without any legislative debate or discussion.